CLEVELAND (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court has dismissed an effort by a man who spent 11 years in prison for a murder he did not commit to force Cleveland to pay a $13.2 million federal jury award levied against a retired homicide detective he said helped frame him.
The court in a 6-1 ruling on Wednesday agreed with a lower court that said the city was not responsible for paying the judgment made to David Ayers, 63, in 2013 because the detective never asked Cleveland to indemnify her against liability.
Ayers, a public housing security guard, was convicted in 2000 of killing a woman at an apartment complex for the elderly and was sentenced to life in prison. The conviction was based largely on the testimony of two detectives and a jailhouse informant who said Ayers confessed.
He was exonerated in 2011 after it was determined that hairs found on the victim didn’t belong to Ayers, that detectives had coached the jailhouse snitch and that investigators had failed to check surveillance camera footage that would have confirmed Ayers’ alibi.
Cleveland was dismissed from the federal lawsuit filed in 2012, leaving detectives Denise Kovach and Michael Cipo as the sole defendants at trial. Cipo died after the jury verdict and Kovach filed for bankruptcy, shielding her from the judgment. Cleveland paid for Kovach’s bankruptcy.
“They put me away and took away 11 years of my life for something I’m completely innocent of,” Ayers said in 2016. “I think they should stop and pay me my money.”
Attorneys for Ayers won a short-lived victory when a state court judge ruled that Cleveland, as Kovach’s employer, must pay Ayers. A state appeals court disagreed, and Ayers’ attorneys filed an appeal with the Supreme Court.
Ayres’ Chicago-based attorney, Russell Ainsworth, said Thursday that he is disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“Mr. Ayers’ quest for justice will continue, focusing on Cleveland’s unconscionable scheme to deprive Mr. Ayers of the compensation awarded to him by a jury for his wrongful conviction,” Ainsworth wrote in an email.
A message seeking comment was left Thursday with a Cleveland spokeswoman.
It appeared that Cleveland might employ the same tactic to avoid paying a $5.5 million judgment by hiring a bankruptcy attorney for an officer who killed a man while off duty. The city hired an attorney for the officer, but no bankruptcy was filed.
Cleveland agreed in 2018 to pay the slain man’s family and their attorneys $4 million.